Humans Must Answer: The modern indie Euroshmup
Humans Must Answer is a textbook Euroshmup. There is no derision intended in the regional grouping here, only to say that it checks all of the boxes and rigidly aligns with an expectation for what this kind of shmup has come to be. That is, straight-laced with a loose design that sometimes compromises mechanics for a polished look.
It began with a modest funding drive. Some humans answered and now it is a released product that has recently made available on Steam. It’s a fine and straightforward shmup that’s an easy recommendation for a certain kind of person who is after a certain kind of game. They will already know it when we say that it’s a fairly difficult R-Type-like shmup that offers Hard as the default difficulty setting. Occasionally it veers off into bullet hell and other kinds of hell and spans a range of common and not-so-common level designs. That certainly files the game within an incredibly specific niche although it’s adequate at being just that.
Much of our experience with Humans Must Answer is informed with a flavoring of poultry puns and jokes. An unnecessarily overwritten story dispels subtext for each mission, cut between our crew of chicken consultants, an army general and a scientist. This theme carries into the levels, with egg-collection being the reason, and provides a vague theme to separate it from the grouping of just-another-R-Type.
There’s an uneven progression that slows down and draws out what would be a fairly straight play through. Eggs have to be collected, given as bonuses and hidden within the nooks of levels, random destructible objects or behind a maze of explosives. It’s a bit of a pain on higher difficulty and leads to excessive backtracking. It’s slightly problematic in a shmup, when our progression may not be drawn out by lack of ability but perhaps we’ve overlooked a few boxes withholding eggs. The horizontal design pushes us forward for a good reason, there are genre benefits to always keeping a game about momentum and forward movement. It’s a frustration that’s coupled with an in-game store, which fuels our score-driven progression by putting an emphasis on buying into abilities with in-game currency.
The mechanics work to forgive the gated progress. They’re fully competent and straight. It fits squarely into the horizontal formula and works as expected. There are some flourishes in the presentation that excuses any over familiarity. For an indie shmup, it has just the right amount of polish without getting in the way of the content. It takes a while but eventually it finds interesting new ways to spin the upgrades off of each other, through splitting shots and other means, opening up a depth that’s not immediately apparent.
There is still a place for the Euroshmup. Humans Must Answer does not challenge conventions or go against the grain but comfortably fits within the established norms. And those of us who are after that experience will already know that the title is a sort of call to action – answer if you must.